A chance for change as county embraces new order

The meetings of North East England Chamber of Commerce County Durham Committee are “buzzing” according to chair Mike Wade of Hodgson Sayers, and with good reason, as Mark Lane discovers

It was always going to be a tough ask to follow in the footsteps of the hugely-popular Brian Manning, former chief executive of the Esh Group and chair of the County Durham committee of the North East England Chamber of Commerce.

When Brian passed away in 2017, Mike Wade, finance manager at roofing and building specialists, Hodgson Sayers, was asked to temporarily fill his shoes having become vice chair to him in 2015.

“Brian was a great example of those important values that the Chamber represents and was never shy to share his experiences and knowledge,” says Mike. “Brian was taken from us too soon in 2017 and I stood in until elected formally at the AGM in 2018.

Brian is a hard act to follow and I feel his shadow every time I chair a meeting, which I view as a positive influence reminding me of the responsibility I hold.”

Mike clearly takes huge pride in his role with the Chamber and is acutely aware of the great influence he and his colleagues can potentially exert in terms of being a force for good in our region. His employer, Hodgson Sayers, joined the Chamber in 2013 and Mike has had no hesitation in becoming extremely active with the Chamber since that time.

“I am a great believer that you should combine involvement with participation and never fail to express my opinion about many of the matters discussed and the wider role of business leaders in the community, acting for the common good,” he says.

A natural networker and connector, Mike thrives on the responsibilities offered by his role at the Chamber, including regular committee meetings. He feels they offer a huge opportunity to get like-minded people around one table to get things done. “I really enjoy the low hum of conversation that takes place at the beginning and end of every meeting, it is almost a shame to call the meeting to order and interrupt that buzz,” Mike explains.

“[At meetings], we have presentations from local, regional and national interests which are almost universally well received, with a Q&A session afterwards to really understand the nature of the subject matter. State of trade discussions, detailing those successes and difficulties facing members are always informative and provide a great deal of colour to inform the attending representatives of the Chamber executive of the burning issues which they can assist with.

“There is always a briefing from the Chamber to highlight the work and direction it is undertaking and an exchange of views and opinions on those.”

Mike is refreshingly candid on the challenges and opportunities facing County Durham and doesn’t shy away from some of the critical questions facing the region. “One of the key challenges for the future prosperity of the county is to attract and retain talent,” he explains. “The education provision across the region has achieved standout results and commendations and both New College Durham and Durham University have invested heavily in ensuring that a well-prepared and trained talent pool is available.

“With exciting developments such as Aykley Heads, NETPark and Dalton Park all coming to fruition in the near future, the environment for innovation and growth is available. Who knows what the next big thing will be, but we will be ready!”

Talking more broadly, he continues: “The county, like many, has a very wide range of communities, from the rural in the west and the industrial, which runs from the centre to the coast. One of the main challenges is this disparity.

“Equality of opportunity is paramount and the nurturing of local talent into enterprising activity from the earliest stage, is important. The retail sector is suffering at the moment but there are examples of success all around, businesses that recognise and address the wants and needs of the client base.

Keeping in tune with the subject matter of this issue of Contact, he finishes: “Transport, as ever, is an issue, mainline rail services to Durham must be maintained and the continued improvements to the road network are essential to the prosperity of the county.”

“We want to help develop and deliver the strategic vision for the North East and being an active member of the Chamber is wholly consistent with this aim.”